This guide explains healthcare in Switzerland, Swiss health insurance, visiting a doctor, going to a hospital, emergency services, and more.
The healthcare system in Switzerland has a global reputation for being outstanding. It combines public, subsidized private, and totally private healthcare systems to create an extensive network of highly qualified doctors and Swiss hospitals, the best equipped medical facilities, and no waiting lists. However, this all comes at a price.
This helpful guide explains everything you need to know about accessing Swiss healthcare, including the following:
- Switzerland healthcare system overview
- Swiss healthcare costs
- Basic health insurance in Switzerland
- How to register for healthcare in Switzerland as an expat
- Private healthcare in Switzerland
- Going to the doctor in Switzerland
- Women’s healthcare in Switzerland
- Children’s healthcare in Switzerland
- Visiting the dentist in Switzerland
- Hospitals in Switzerland
- Health centers and clinics
- Pharmacies in Switzerland
- Mental healthcare in Switzerland
- Other forms of healthcare in Switzerland
- In an emergency
- Useful phrases
- Useful resources
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Switzerland healthcare system overview
The Swiss healthcare system is universal and of a high standard. Everyone living in Switzerland must have basic health and accident insurance (Soziale Krankenversicherung / Assurance maladie / Assicurazione-Mallatie) to receive treatment.
Unlike other European countries, the Swiss healthcare system is not tax-based or financed by employers. Instead, it is paid for by the individual through contributions to Swiss health insurance schemes. Many people top up the basic cover with supplementary private health insurance. Switzerland has one of the largest private healthcare sectors in the world, with good choice and competition.
Healthcare in Switzerland is largely organized by the individual cantons. The health ministers from all cantons form the Swiss Conference of the Cantonal Ministers of Public Health (GDK). This aims to promote cooperation and implement common policies between cantons. It is overseen by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).
Switzerland ranked first on the 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index. It was the only country to score all green on accessibility and was praised for its outcomes. However, it was noted that the decentralized nature of the Swiss health system makes data collection difficult.
Who can access healthcare in Switzerland?
Anyone living in Switzerland can access the healthcare system as long as they have health insurance coverage. Both residents and non-residents will need at least basic health insurance coverage. This covers around 80-90% of healthcare costs. Many short-term visitors to Switzerland choose international insurance packages. Residents from the European Economic Area (EEA) can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to cover healthcare costs for short visits.
Swiss healthcare costs
Switzerland is a big healthcare spender. According to 2016 figures, it is the only country within the EU/EFTA to spend over €8,000 per inhabitant. Its healthcare expenditure as a percentage of GDP (currently 12.3%) is also the highest in Europe.
However, out-of-pocket spending on healthcare is also high; in 2017 it accounted for 28.95% of all healthcare expenditure. This put Switzerland behind only Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, and Lithuania in a study of 19 EU countries.
Adults have to pay the first CHF 300 each year ‘excess’ for medical treatment, excluding maternity care. There is also a charge of CHF 15 a day for hospital stays. Insurance will pay for up to 90% of the amount exceeding the ‘excess’. However, this is capped at CHF 700 per year for adults and CHF 350 per year for children.
Swiss residents on low incomes are entitled to a reduction on their insurance premiums. These reductions are set at cantonal level.
Basic health insurance in Switzerland
There are around 60 registered health insurance companies in Switzerland, each offering the same benefits in their basic health insurance policies. Companies are obliged to accept anyone who applies, regardless of pre-existing health conditions. You are free to choose your own insurer and can change company once a year if you give notice. Some of the largest health insurance companies in Switzerland include:
The basic health insurance policy covers:
- Out-patient treatment by officially recognized doctors
- Emergency treatment
- A contribution to transport/rescue expenses
- Medicines prescribed by a doctor and on an official list
- Maternity check-ups, tests, ante-natal classes, childbirth
- Abortions and gynecological check-ups
- Rehabilitation after operations or illness
- Medical treatment when on short trips outside of Switzerland
- Some alternative therapies, like homeopathy, Chinese medicine, and psychotherapy if this is offered in the medical practice
Each family member must be insured individually. Babies are insured from birth, but to continue cover, you must take out health insurance for your child within three months of their birth. Children don’t need to be insured by the same company as their parents. Once a child turns 18, they are officially responsible for their own health insurance payments.
If you are in Switzerland for less than three months, you may be exempt from the requirement for holding basic health insurance if you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), your own private health insurance policy, travel insurance, or a company healthcare plan – but check with your cantonal authorities to make sure.
How to register for healthcare in Switzerland as an expat
The key to accessing healthcare in Switzerland is to register for health insurance. To do this, you first need to register with your local cantonal authority. Following this, you have 90 days from your arrival to join a Swiss health insurance plan. You will need to provide:
- valid ID such as a passport
- Swiss residence permit proving your right to be in Switzerland
- proof of address such as a recent utility bill or rental contract
Once you have registered with a Swiss insurer, you will receive a health insurance card that you will need to present upon receiving any treatment. This proves to your provider that you are entitled to Swiss healthcare.
Private healthcare in Switzerland
You can take out optional supplementary health insurance at an extra cost from the same or separate insurer. Benefits vary from policy to policy but may include:
- orthodontic treatment
- spectacles/contact lenses
- choice of doctor when you need treatment in hospitals
- stays in a private or semi-private hospital ward
You can choose the amount of coverage you have with private insurance. The greater the level of coverage, the higher the premium.
Going to the doctor in Switzerland
You are usually free to choose your own family doctor (Doktor/ Arzt / Médicin / Medico) unless your insurance policy places a restriction on choice of doctor. This may happen, for example, if you have a cheaper policy plan. The doctor can treat you and refer you on to specialist treatment. Unless your insurance policy specifies otherwise, you may also consult specialists without a referral from your doctor and have this covered by your insurance.
You will need to book your appointment beforehand and give 24 hours notice if you need to cancel, otherwise you can be charged. Take your Swiss health insurance card when you visit the doctor. See our guide to Swiss doctors and specialists for more information.
Women’s healthcare in Switzerland
You can access a gynecologist in Switzerland through basic health insurance. The basic insurance package will also cover you for:
- maternity care including check-ups, ultrasounds, ante-natal, and post-natal care
- cervical cancer screenings
- breast examinations
- regular check-ups including urine and blood tests, and blood pressure check
If you are pregnant in Switzerland, you can see your GP, gynecologist, or midwife. Births take place in hospitals, birthing centers, or at home. You can search for gynecologists on the doktor.ch website.
Contraception is easily available, including emergency contraception. However, basic insurance does not cover some medications such as the pill and the intrauterine device (IUD).
In Switzerland, it is legal to have an abortion up to 12 weeks after conception without a doctor’s consent. However, from the 13th week, a doctor must confirm that it is necessary for the woman’s physical or psychological health to terminate the pregnancy. The basic health insurance covers several vaccinations.
For more information, see our guide to having a baby in Switzerland.
Children’s healthcare in Switzerland
Unlike in many countries with a health insurance system, family health insurance does not cover children in Switzerland and they need separate coverage. You can choose any provider for your child and this doesn’t necessarily have to be the same as your own, therefore it is a good idea to shop around.
Basic health insurance will cover:
- access to pediatric services
- basic medical treatment (children are exempt from the CHF 300 yearly excess)
- treatment in pediatric hospitals
You can choose your own pediatrician, and they should be a member of the Swiss Society of Paediatrics.
The FOPH runs a preventative health program in Switzerland, which is delivered at cantonal level through schools. This focuses on sexual health, physical activity, and early detection of health conditions.
There are no compulsory vaccinations for children in Switzerland, however, basic health insurance covers several vaccinations, including:
- Whooping cough
- Hepatitis B
- Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
Read our guide to vaccinations in Switzerland for more detailed information.
Visiting the dentist in Switzerland
A Swiss dentist is called Zahnärzte / Dentiste / Dentista and may work in either a private dental practice or public dental clinic. The basic health insurance does not cover most dental care, and this can be extremely expensive in Switzerland, unless you have private insurance coverage.
Adults must pay for their own dental check-ups and treatment. However, the basic Swiss health insurance covers treatment for problems caused by serious, unavoidable illness. School dentists will check children’s teeth free of charge annually, however parents must pay to treat dental decay. Some local authorities may subsidize the cost, but most people take out complementary insurance to cover dental costs.
Hospitals in Switzerland
Swiss hospitals are called Krankenhaus / Spital / Hospital / Ospedale. Look for a sign with a white ‘H’ on a blue background. Unless it’s an emergency, you need to have a doctor’s referral to a Swiss hospital. You will need to show proof of your health insurance coverage.
The hospital will usually be in your local canton. There are three types of wards: general (two to four patients), semi-private (two patients), or private for one patient only. If you have private health insurance you can also choose your own doctor.
Basic health insurance covers medical and nursing care and outpatient follow-up, although you will need to pay CHF 15 per day towards these costs. See our guide to hospitals in Switzerland.
Health centers and health clinics in Switzerland
Switzerland has a large network of medical centers, polyclinics, and health spas that provide a range of secondary care and specialist out-patient treatment. What is available varies across the individual cantons and only a limited amount of treatment is covered by basic health insurance.
Check with your local cantonal authority for information on facilities in your region.
Pharmacies in Switzerland
Pharmacies (Apotheke/Pharmacie/Farmacia), clearly marked with a green cross, are good places to get health advice as well as medicines. You will need to pay a small, one-off fee the first time you get prescription medicines from a pharmacy. This is to open a patient file in which the pharmacy will record all your medications. If you go to another pharmacy you will have to do the same there, therefore it makes sense to try to go to the same pharmacy each time.
Pharmacies are usually open from 8am to 12pm then 2pm to 6pm Mondays to Fridays; they close earlier around 5pm on Saturdays. If you need an emergency out-of-hours pharmacy you can find the nearest one to you on this SOS-Pharmacy website (in English).
You will have to pay a deductible on prescriptions, which is:
- up to 10% on generic medicines;
- up to 20% on branded medicines
Insurance does not cover non-prescription medicine. The government provides information on supplied medical products in Switzerland.
Mental healthcare in Switzerland
In addition to scoring highly in terms of general healthcare, Switzerland also scores well in terms of mental health provision. It has a much higher number of psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants than other EU/EFTA nations; 50.9, a long way clear of the second-placed country, Liechtenstein, which has 34.5. There is also a high density of inpatient facilities and mental healthcare providers.
The first point of call for anyone in Switzerland experiencing mental health problems is the GP. They will assess and prescribe any necessary medication or further specialist treatment. Care is available through hospitals, medical centers, and clinics. Basic insurance covers some services such as day treatment programs and visits from mental health nurses.
There is plenty of private treatment available, including private counseling and health spa facilities. Psychotherapy is also available through basic insurance packages. You will have to pay around 10% of costs, up to the first CHF 700.
Other forms of healthcare in Switzerland
Complementary and alternative therapies are available in Switzerland, with many treatments covered by Swiss health insurance. According to the World Health Organization, the most popular treatments in Switzerland are:
- homeopathy (used by 63% of patients with insurance coverage);
- alternative massage therapies (41%);
- phytotherapy (27%);
- nutrition therapy (22%);
- acupuncture (18%)
Availability of treatments, and how they are regulated, varies between the cantons. Practitioners are not legally required to be registered, but they can join bodies such as the Swiss Association of Natural Doctors. Check that your therapist is registered with a licensed body if you have any concerns.
In an emergency
The basic health insurance covers emergency treatment and you can consult with any doctor or hospital directly in an emergency, even if you have restricted choice. They may ask you for your health insurance details, even in an emergency, so keep these with you at all times.
For urgent medical treatment, go to the A&E or ER (Notaufnahme / d’urgence / pronto soccors) of the nearest hospital; most public hospitals have 24-hour A&E departments.
For an ambulance, call 144, free of charge from any public phone. Insurance will cover 50% of the ambulance cost, although no more than CHF 500 per year if there is no immediate danger to life. Therefore, you might want to take the patient to hospital by car or public transport if they are well enough to travel this way.
Other useful numbers, free of charge, from any payphone include:
- General emergencies: 112
- Police: 117
- Information service in German, French, Italian, and English: 1818
- Swiss Rescue: 1414
See our complete list of emergency numbers in Switzerland.
- I need an ambulance! – Ich brauche einen Krankenwagen! (German)
- I need a doctor – Ich brauche einen Arzt (German)
- Call an ambulance – Appelez une ambulance! (French)
- I need a doctor – J’ai besoin d’un médicin (French)
- Call an ambulance – Chiamate un’ambulanza! (Italian)
- I need a doctor – Ho bisogno di un medico (Italian)